On Saturday September 2nd Terri Horvath, Echart Roder, and myself drove to Silverton and took the narrow gauge railroad train to the Needle Creek station. Our objective was Pigeon Peak.
Two things to note regarding the train: This year they are letting backpackers make reservations from the Silverton side, and they have raised the round trip ticket price (roundtrip Durango to Needleton $53.00, roundtrip Silverton to Needleton $30.00). In the past they would allow backpackers to start from Silverton on "standby," but did not allow advance reservations.
Our group was only interested in climbing Pigeon Peak, so we decided to try a much more direct approach, rather then the Ruby Creak approach described in the Garrett & Martin book. Ruby Lake is a great place to camp if you plan to climb multiple peaks in the area, but not exactly the most strategic place to camp for just Pigeon Peak. In fact, if you do the Ruby Creek approach for Pigeon Peak, you wind up completely circumnavigating the mountain!
Our plan was to approach Pigeon Peak via the unnamed drainage directly north of the Pigeon creak drainage. We set up Camp 1 the first night 15 minutes away from the Needleton station in a large meadow which marks the start of the traditional Ruby Creek approach, as we were to take this trail for at least the first few miles of our approach.
Not having any information on this route except for a thumbs-up "it goes" from Jennifer & Gerry Roach (undoubtedly their new highest 100 book will provide an excellent description for this route), our first idea was to bushwhack directly up the drainage from the point where the Ruby Creek trail crosses the unnamed creek. Ha ha! You would need stilts and a large machete to make any progress up that creek. At this point we decided to "adjust" our plan and approach our drainage via the west ridge of Pigeon Peak (AKA "we'll take the high road"), picking up the ridge further up along the Ruby Creek trail. We planned to exit the trail at this point and follow the ridge to about 11,700'. From there we would traverse south until we reached a huge flat open area right above treeline.
It worked, it went, and this is definitely the shortest approach to Pigeon Peak, but I would not recommend this route to anyone without good routefinding and map and compass skills. We used all of our routefinding skills and a little bit of luck to get to our destination for camp 2. It took us about 5 hours. As with most of the approaches in this area, it was the "backpack from hell" with long steep relentless sections.
We set up Camp 2 in the huge flat meadow directly west of the summit, at 11,700'. This is a beautiful area, definitely away from the crowds, and the perfect spot to start a climb of Pigeon Peak. From here we followed the traditional route up Pigeon Peak, and were on the summit in 2.5 hours.
There was about 6 inches of fresh snow in the area on September 1st, and there was still some lingering on the day of our climb, just enough to get our attention!
After summiting the peak, we got back to camp early, and decided to take the dreaded trip down, hoping to retrace our steps. It was a good idea to return to Camp 1 the same day as the climb, as it allowed us plenty of time for the routefinding on the descent. It took us a good 3.5 hours, and the next day we were very glad that we didn't have to wake up early and rush down to catch the 10:45 train back to Silverton.